Photo Credit: Rifka Schonfeld

There are a few questions that have been coming up in my office. I’ve combined a few of them below to answer some pressing questions about bullying and friendship.

 

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            Q: My six-year-old son, Moshe, has been coming home from school complaining about a boy in his class, I will call him Binyamin, who is bothering him. Moshe and Binyamin have been in the same class since they were in preschool and seemed to have been friends in the past. Suddenly, though, Moshe has been reporting that Binyamin says mean things to him about his clothing, lunch, haircut, or even his grades.

Now, I should mention that Moshe is taller than Binyamin, so I can’t imagine anything physical starting up. In addition, Moshe has plenty of friends in the classroom aside from Binyamin.

When Moshe started coming to me because Binyamin was taunting him, I told him to tell him to stop. When that didn’t work, I told Moshe to ignore Binyamin’s comments. But, Moshe is complaining more than ever and has even started fighting me when it is time to go to school. I told him that he needs to work it out on his own with Binyamin and that I shouldn’t get involved. The problem is, lately, I have been thinking that he simply doesn’t know how to work it out himself. Did I make a mistake?

            A: Your question is a very difficult one – and one that comes up a lot in my office. When one child persistently attacks another child, whether physically or verbally, that behavior is classified as bullying. Depending on the severity and recurrence of the other child’s comments, I would consider getting involved. If your son continues to come home telling you about this other boys’ negative behavior towards him, he obviously cannot work it on his own. In essence, that is why he is telling you about the information – so you can help him.

Often, we want children to gain skills – to stick up for themselves when others try to put them down or to make new friends. But, in reality, if your child is asking you for help that means that he has not figured out a way to master the situation on his own.

 

Here are some possible signs that your sign is being bullied:

Returns from school with torn, damaged, or missing clothing
Seems afraid of going to school
Suddenly begins to do poorly in school
Complains frequently of headaches, stomachaches, or other illnesses
Has trouble sleeping or frequent bad dreams
Appears anxious or suffers from low self-esteem

 

So, should you step in? If the situation continues, my answer is yes. Scars from childhood bullying are often long-lasting and bullying can sometimes escalate out of our control. Here are some ways that you can get involved:

            Set up playdates with other children: Children who are isolated are more likely to be bullied in school. Talk to your child about who he enjoys playing with and then set up after school playdates with that child. Creating an ally in the classroom will inspire your child with more confidence and will also dissuade others from bullying your son.

            Talk to a teacher or menahel: Bullying is not a problem that involves two children, rather the whole school environment is engaged. Teachers and administrators are on the front line of the bullying war. The first step is to make them aware of the problem in the classroom. Then, you can work together with the teacher to come up with solutions to prevent the negative behavior. With proactive efforts, bullying can be severely reduced.

            Role-play: Teaching your child how to respond when someone bullies him will help him take control of the situation. To that end, role-playing different scenarios with your child can help him anticipate possible bullying situations.

Because bullying has become such a hot topic, I wrote a children’s book entitled My “Friend” The Bully. The colorful picture book follows Pinny as he innocently reacts to a “friend” who belittles and intimidates him – just like the situation with your son. Through help from his parents, teachers, and friends, Pinny’s life takes a turn for the better. You, too, can take an active role in helping your child overcome his “friend’s” comments. After all, he seems to be asking for your help.

 

            Q: My daughter, Nechama, has been struggling with reading since I started singing her the ABCs when she was a baby. In nursery, when her teachers introduced the alphabet and in kindergarten and first grade when they began to read in earnest, Nechama was always two or three steps behind. However, up until recently, Nechama’s reading had seemed to only impact her academic performance.

Since she entered second grade this year, Nechama has been telling me that she doesn’t want to go to school. At first, I thought that her problems with reading were causing her to fear school, but her reasons for not wanting to go to school range from “None of the other girls play with me” to “I don’t like eating lunch by myself.” It breaks my heart to see my once happy and confident daughter depressed and isolated from her peers.

Here’s my question and I should tell you that my husband thinks I am overstating this, but I think there might be a link between her struggle with reading and her trouble with friends. Is that possible – are reading and socializing connected?

            A: The short answer is: yes, there is a link between reading and social skills. But, first, it is important to clarify some of the different types of learning disabilities that cause children to struggle with reading:

            Dyslexia: The National Institute of Health defines dyslexia as characterized by difficulties with accurate or fluent word recognition, and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. Dyslexia is a learning disability that is neurological in origin and often runs in the family. Children with dyslexia experience trouble reading and writing when taught through traditional instruction.

            ADHD: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder affects between 8-10% of school-age children. Boys are three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with it. Children who have ADHD have trouble sitting still, focusing on one thing at one time, and attending to details. While their attention seems unfocused, it is multi-focused. Their mind takes in multiple stimuli at once, making it hard to engage in one activity for long periods of time. For this reason, reading through conventional methods can be frustrating.

            Visual Processing Disorder: Visual processing disorder affects how the brain perceives and processes what the eye sees. Difficulties with visual processing affect how visual information is interpreted and perceived. The person may have difficulty in discriminating foreground-background, forms, size, and position in space. Using worksheets with enlarged print and breaking assignments into clear, concise steps are various methods that assist comprehension. Again, with visual processing disorder, traditional methods of reading instruction fall short.

As children enter elementary school, and reading becomes an integral part of the curriculum, children with learning disorders begin to struggle academically. Whereas before, they might have been able to get along based on their innate intellect, children with dyslexia, ADHD, or visual processing disorder start to show signs of struggles when reading instruction begins in earnest.

Often, these children go undiagnosed and their struggles with reading are attributed to a lack of trying or apathy. In reality, these children are working hard, but need different methods of instruction. Without these accommodations, children with learning disabilities often become frustrated and dejected. This can lead to low self-esteem and decreased self-worth.

So, are reading and social skills linked? Definitely. When children develop low self-esteem, they are less likely to attempt to make friends. They believe that no one would be interested in being their friends and therefore think that they will be rejected by their peers. This often leads children with disabilities to isolate themselves in order to avoid risk-taking in social situations.

Fortunately, there is a lot that you can do to help improve your child’s reading and thereby improve her self-esteem. Depending on the source of your daughter’s struggles with reading, alternative reading strategies can be employed. With a customized plan in place, your daughter could be on her way towards success in reading. Then, with each small gain in reading, your daughter’s self-esteem will grow – she will no longer be the girl who is scared to be called on in class. Who knows? That newfound confidence might allow her to believe in herself enough to take some risks and make some new friends!

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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@gmail.com.